Smart Connected Machines Drive a Smart Connected Factory of the Future

Author photo: Dick Slansky
By Dick Slansky
Industry Trends

​The factory of the future will be a system of systems of smart connected machines, workstations, and production equipment that will enable highly individualized production on a large scale of volume and flexibility; in essence, this will be mass produced customization.  These intelligent factories will be inter-connected wirelessly in a system of cyber-physical machines, production systems, and materials within an industrial IoT (IIoT) enabled production environment. The focus of manufacturers will be on efficiency in terms of energy and workers, optimization of production processes through continuous process improvement, and increasing productivity through advanced analytics. Additionally, products being manufactured will have the capability to communicate directly with the machines and workstations involved with fabrication and assembly, cooperatively driving the production process.

Actionable information will be the life blood that will run the smart connected factories. This information will be gathered in real time from intelligent sensors and other monitoring technology that will provide current machine and production systems conditions, the state of the production process, work flow, material and inventory, and all manner of data for analysis. Advanced analytics will now be able to use this information to determine both quantitative and qualitative process improvement, and actually validate that the production systems are building the product that was designed and determine if current manufacturing methods can be optimized. In this environment, machines and factory systems will have levels of connectivity and intelligence that will allow it to follow an evolutionary path from predictive methods to prescriptive optimization, and ultimately to autonomous operations.

The factories that produce the next generation of smart products will need to incorporate the very same characteristics and capabilities that these smart products manifest. Intelligence and connectivity enable an entirely new set of functions and capabilities for both the products and the production systems that produce them. These functions and capabilities can be categorized into four areas: monitoring, control, optimization, and autonomy. Interestingly, each of these four areas can be applied to both the smart product and the factory production system that manufactures the product.

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